I believe captions are as important as the images themselves. Yes, you need captions, and you need to include more of what the image is already telling the viewer. Last year, I was fortunate enough to judge CPOY, when we got to the stories category, and they reduced the category to roughly 10 selections, the captions were read. OMG, it’s amazing what captions can do. In one case, it made the story better; in another instance, it hurt the story. Captions are an additional layer of information that creates a better relationship to the image for the viewer.
Tell me who, what, when, where, and why there is a reason these photos exist. Give me a context to the picture. Tell me why this moment is important for me to see. Don’t duplicate what the picture is already saying. Let’s say, for example, a boy is sitting in a chair crying. Obviously a bad caption is Boy sits in chair crying. A good caption would be John Doe, after fighting with his brother over a shared toy, cries after being spanked. Explain the reason behind the action that is in your image.
And always, always, always get names; get in the habit of asking for them now. Quotes can also be a great element to add.
One more little note why this is important. No matter where you are publishing…the majority of people who will see your images are word people. At the Los Angeles Times where I worked, when I was trying to persuade an editor to use certain images, I would present them with a photo; before they even looked at the picture, they read the caption. Based upon the caption, they would decide whether the image was good or not.
Think of captions this way – as a journalist, it’s part of your job. If you want respect, then do your job.